So I am now writing my novel regarding a man sent on a long term mission in a backward world by his employer. In the middle of war he ran out of provisions behind enemy lines with no edible flora or fauna around.

And he is a human.

Now the situation is: He is hungry and the only thing in front of him is a lot of dead orcs, imps, snagas and goblins. You are not eating humans, mind you, but demi-humans.

Does eating orcs and goblins or rather any sentient creatures (elves, hobbits, dryads, ents, saplings, etc.) for that matter in any kind of form (raw or cooked) make you a cannibal?


Most of the sentient species are people/creatures that humans can produce offsprings with.

  • $\begingroup$ I think this is too broad for one question. Maybe you could just stick to the main question about "Am I a cannibal just because I am eating demi-humans?". You can post follow-up questions later, as a real follow-up and one at a time. Cooking them seems to be a completely different subject $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 12:04
  • $\begingroup$ Is the man a human or is he of any of the other races? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 12:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Secespitus will do, i'll make a different question on cooking them $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 12:06
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    $\begingroup$ Does drinking a sentient creature's blood also count? What if the victim doesn't exactly die? (I never realized cannibalism was so complex!) $\endgroup$
    – Catalyst
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ I've deleted the cooking question (you can still see what you've written in the history) as it was making this clearly too broad. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 12:26

8 Answers 8


Cannibalism is defined as the act committed by someone when eating somebody of his own species. With belonging to the same specie I intend they are able to mate, reproduce and generate fertile prole.

As long as humans eating monkeys or apes are not seen as cannibals, I see no reason for a human eating a goblin or whatever to be labelled as cannibal.

  • $\begingroup$ Need to define a new term for that. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 22:58
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    $\begingroup$ In a fantasy world, you can define these kinds of things for yourself. Cannibalism is mainly a social issue I believe, some groups (real-life) tribes are Cannibals (as we all know), so we have simply defined it in a world with a single sentient species. An author could probably use the word in a world with multiple species. $\endgroup$
    – DonyorM
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 5:56
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    $\begingroup$ One should also note the ancient Minotaur myth. It was the byproduct of a human and bull, but I don't think this Minotaur was ever accused of cannibalism. $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ @DonyorM At the risk of being pedantic, there is a difference between sentient and sapient. Monkeys, dogs, and most life with a brain in a meaningful sense is generally regarded as sentient (essentially: possessing subjective experience). While there is some debate around dolphins and some apes, humans are currently the only undisputed sapient species. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 23:35
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    $\begingroup$ @TimothyAWiseman right. Sorry about that. I meant sapient. $\endgroup$
    – DonyorM
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 5:41

By definitions:

Wikipedia on Cannibalism:

Cannibalism is the act or practice of humans eating the flesh or internal organs of other human beings.

Wikipedia on Cannibalism (zoology):

In zoology, cannibalism is the act of one individual of a species consuming all or part of another individual of the same species as food.

English Oxford Living Dictionary on cannibal:

A person who eats the flesh of other human beings

What does it mean?

This means that if other sentient races are actually a races of homo sapiens species, then eating them is cannibalism. If not, then not - but then in your world there would probably be a word just for that, too.

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    $\begingroup$ i see thank you for your guidance, i will post another question, this time i will ask if there will be any moral complications or ethics violated when you are eating other races $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 12:13

No and yes - it does not make one a cannibal (as other answers mentioned) but I think it does make one a monster.

Technically cannibalism is, as other answers mentioned, about eating one's own species - other species, even sapient ones, likely doesn't fit the definition. But the taboo behind that is a little broader, I think, it has to do with not eating beings one perceives as people.

One possible nod to this is the related taboo behind eating pets, or the species of animal routinely kept as pets - cats and dogs, for example, are rarely considered food (at least in the west) and cultures which would, are, well, kind of thought less of for that choice - and I'm not saying there's something intrinsic to those species for a reason why, just that people empathize with pets, and so don't think of them as food.

Another possible related concept is that there were plenty of times, historically, that people of different races were considered "not quite human" - subhuman, or animalistic, or just generally not-people. I recall reading about laws that did not consider the killing of native individuals "murder" because they "weren't people" - not to mention various inequalities of legal protection in regards to rape, abuse, exploitation, and so on related to these racist ideas. But while a great many abuses were common while these legal ideas lasted, I do not recall hearing that cannibalism was one of them. This seems relevant because people at that time certainly believed, acted like they believed, the difference between different ethnicities or cultures was as great as the differences between species - perhaps as great as the differences actually are between these hominid races you mention - yet the cannibalism taboo held.

So I think that the underlying taboo is a bit broader than its literal definition, and it would certainly cover even completely separate races that are known to be sapient. Probably a person in that situation would consider eating other species "cannibalistic" even if the term didn't quite apply logically, it would feel similar, I think. And they, or others, would feel that a person who did eat the flesh of other races is a bad person, monstrous, nasty, badwrongevil.

To quote a webcomic "food that talks is not food", and I think people of your world would feel that way even if there are social, or even legal, definitions that hold that some races or species are "not-people" and can be abused or murdered without consequence - they would not likely be eaten, except under circumstances (and with such consequences) that a person might consider cannibalism - like extreme survival or certain kinds of cultural elements.

To get back to your question, it may be that there's a separate term for those who eat other (sapient) species as opposed to their own, or it might be the same term (cannibal) would be more broadly applied in such a world to begin with. But probably the average person in such a situation would not consider eating the flesh of other sapient species unless they would consider eating the flesh of their own species under those circumstances, and generally, people would probably react about the same to someone who did... so any difference in term is probably not hugely relevant.

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    $\begingroup$ "it does make one a monster" they already dead in the case. Cannibalism is bad not because one sapient eat another sapient (just because it's bad because bad) - but because of biological(for everyone, not matter how big or small is the group) and sociological(less so for multiple small tribes) issues which are consequences of the situation(for humans). As far as orks and others are not the part of the same society the human belongs (and and same spices) it does not makes him a monster. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg - I think it is monstrous, not because of the flesh that is eaten (similar in composition to fleshes people do eat), but because of what it does to one's mindset to look at a person, or even a person's remains, and see them as a not-person, to move the same body from "person" to "food". I think it has psychological consequences before biological or sociological ones, though they exist as well. He would be a monster either because he can cross that line easily (which most can't), or else because he can't - and so would see himself as monstrous for surviving that way. $\endgroup$
    – Megha
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 9:31
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I understand your points in the answer and in the comment. I partially agree, especially about mindset, this is one of the social issues I was talking about. Individual psychology is the blood and flesh of the society. And yes, even in the situation of alien invasion, when we are in zero relations with those lobster aliens except the war, and we discover they are tasty they discovered we are tasty, I generally would not recommend of eating them(but it is not excluded in some situations, especially if it is a matter of survival). What I disagree with just from start call one a monster. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 12:27
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    $\begingroup$ Many people in extreme survival situations have justified eating dead humans with "if I had died I'd want the living to survive by eating my body". If ever I die in a disaster and you are still alive with no food, you have my advance permission to eat my corpse. What is evil is deliberately killing another person, whether as fun or food hardly matters. In my book person includes other intelligent species. $\endgroup$
    – nigel222
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 18:59

Well, firstly, the technical definition of cannibalism is eating a creature of the same species as you. So in your example, it would depend on whether you consider goblins, orcs, etc to be the same species as humans.

The definition of species is kinda fuzzy sometimes (are coyotes and wolves different species?) but the most objective way to distinguish between species is whether they can produce viable fertile offspring together. So for example, if your setting has any half-orc parents, then it's probably cannibalism to eat orcs. If half-orcs are infertile or not possible (or only possible using magical reproduction techniques), then it's not technically cannibalism to eat them.

However, it's also important to consider why we think cannibalism is a bad thing, and whether that applies here. There are several reasons why we tend to disapprove of cannibalism:

  • Disease risk - the closer the relationship between the creature you're eating and yourself, the greater the risk of catching a disease from eating that. By this standard, humans really shouldn't eat great apes or monkeys at all, because we share a lot of diseases with them. Ebola, for example, has been definitely linked to eating non-human primates, and it's possible that HIV originated from eating chimpanzees. (Chimps have near universal infection with SIV, a close relative of HIV, which chimps are immune to.) So you might want to consider what diseases exist in your world, and whether they are shared between orcs, goblins, etc and humans.

  • Motivation for murder - if you really like the taste of human (or sentient) flesh, or have a fetish for eating that sort of thing, and don't have any handy, how do you get more? Surest way is to kill someone. Even if it's an evil race, you probably shouldn't actively seek them out to murder for selfish reasons.

  • Squick - people don't tend to like to think of their food as a living creature that had thoughts and feelings. That's why most people don't tend to eat the same species that they keep as pets. For a lot of people, the thought of eating something that you could have talked to really freaks them out. In the Chronicles of Narnia, for example, Narnians are just fine with eating regular stags, but the idea of eating a talking stag really bothers them. (It comes up in a book when some giants feed their guests a stag, and happen to mention that the stag said he wouldn't taste good. The native Narnian in their group is truly horrified by the realization that the deer he ate could talk.)

Another consideration is the circumstances. I don't think most people seriously blame the Chilean rugby team for eating people, given that they would have starved to death otherwise, and the people that they ate would have been dead regardless. It sounds like your character is in pretty dire circumstances, so as long as you make it clear that he'd take any alternative if there was one, the ethical concerns will be a lot less significant.

  • $\begingroup$ «squick» is not a “proper” word … it's trendy and niche, probably temporary, and as jargon it’s specific to fan fiction. Although I do argue that in this medium any word that pops up as the top definition is OK, it does break the flow and doesn't match the formal tone; IAC it’s a mismatched parallelism — the phrase before the dash should have the same part of speech (as well as generally match in other ways) those used in the other items. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 6:09

Lets look at some examples.

Wild animals eating people. Even though the animal is not sentient is still viewed as a monster. Something to be hunted down. If a man ate a non-human sentient species. He would be seen as a monster to them and maybe even others humans.

Human eating other humans. This is cannibalism. But depending on culture can be seen as good or bad. If the non-human sentient's culture involves eating of the dead for strength or something. Then the human would be doing nothing wrong. But other cultures would have a different view.

Human eating pets. Social generally not fool. While not a monster someone doing this would be seen as barbaric. Though such action might be insulting, ei I think of you as no more than a pig/Bacon.

Respect for the dead. Many cultures respect the dead by deposing of the dead body in a certain way. Even among enemies body are returned for burial. By eating the dead, the man could be insulting the non-human race in someway.

Mad Cow Disease. Could the human and non-human have a common enough ancestor where it would be dangerous.


Nope, the meaning of that word is pretty precise in a dictionary. You should look at the etimology.

Cannibal word has to do with Carribeans, native people of Carribeans were believed to be anthropophagites.

However you could invent a new word for that, following similiar etimology rules of the words "vegetarian / anthropophagites".

The new world could be:

  • Sentientphagites
  • Sentinvorous

Many of the answers preceding mine focus on the idea of the present definition of a word. We have no present reason to consider a different definition. There are no other species (including dolphins, sorry) that rank as our intellectual equals that we might consider a tasty food source. In other words, the assertion that you can't be a cannibal unless you're eating a human is short-sighted because the idea has never been tested otherwise.

Fastforward to the future (I'll avoid fantasy for now) where we meet the Ambrosians. They achieved intersteller flight before we did. Their children can speak dozens of languages as a matter of course. Their discourses on philosophy are so insightful that it's been known to bring humans to tears. Their music enjoys renown throughout the galaxy.

And they're mighty tasty with garlic.

Though I haven't performed the research to prove otherwise, I wouldn't be surprised to discover that the idea of cannibalism is abhorent because the thought of eating your mistress is just so wrong. I mean, she not only can complain, but she has the right to complain. Taking her life is a violation of our highest law and her dearest civil right — eating her would be adding insult to injury.

But would we transfer that concept of an inherent right to life to another intelligent species? We have (to a limited degree) with lower species on mother Earth. Organizations like PETA exist for this very purpose. Most of us don't care because (a) the animal can't complain, (b) the animal has no intrinsic rights (from our point of view), and (c) pretty much every protein is good with either ketchup or BBQ sauce.

But when the creature can lucidly beg for mercy before the slaughter. When his or her cousin can sue before the law for redress. When his or her nation can pull their ambassadors and stage an invasion fleet outside the orbit of Mars....

I'm going to say yes, the definition of cannibalism would be quickly broadened to include every sentient creature.

I believe this concept would include sentient fantasy creatures and would be regardless procreative compatiblity. Given enough time for the concept to settle in the human psyche, it would lead one to even feel sick over the idea of consuming the dead in an emergency. But that wouldn't stop some from doing it to stay alive.


Cannibalism narrowly means humans eating humans, however, the broader understanding is: eating your own kind.

Therefore, if orcs and humans can mate and produce offspring, then they are of our kind.

If not, or if this doesn't apply to goblins or halflings, then, not.

There may be a taboo anyway. @Megha in her answer, makes some excellent points about the unlying taboo.

If the bodies are fresh enough to eat, then some of them will have provisions on them, even if they were picked clean of valuables.

There are health considerations and diseases that actually go along with people eating people, or a close enough relation that they can breed.


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